Hughton – that sinking feeling
Over the last few seasons of Leeds United frustration and mediocrity, one thing at least has become clear. The quality of the scavengers circling to take advantage of our misery has declined since the start of our fall in 2003. A decade ago, it was the likes of Tottenham queuing up to take stars and starlets off our hands at a price cut to reflect the desperation of our position. Latterly though, it’s been little Norwich, a club that shared a common lift-off platform with us as we ascended out of the League One murk.
Norwich started that season with a sobering 7-1 home defeat to Colchester United. They promptly sacked the clueless Bryan Gunn, nicked Colchester’s managerial prodigy Paul Lambert and never looked back. In the reverse fixture, Norwich won at a canter, went on to win the league and, accompanied by second-placed Leeds, prepared for Championship football.
There, the paths of Leeds and Norwich diverged. Leeds went the austerity route under not-so-cuddly chairman Ken Bates, failing to invest in the squad and selling off their crown jewels to confirm their status as perennial under-achievers since 2010. Norwich, on the other hand, seized the second tier by its short and curlies and breezed their way to a second successive promotion, gaining the promised land and munificent riches of the Premier League, unknown to them since the time of Delia’s tired and emotional exhortation to their fans for some sort of atmosphere. And soon, the plundering of LS11 would start.
After a reasonably comfortable passage in their first season back at top level, Norwich set about planning a consolidation of their elevated status. Strangely, to some eyes, they appeared eager to accomplish this by recruiting – over time – the League One midfield of the club that finished runners-up to them at that level in 2010, Leeds United. The first import was Bradley Johnson in July of 2011. This created few ripples at Elland Road, but the next two similar transfers out were bombshells of seismic effect. First home-grown hero Johnny Howson made the trip to East Anglia, in January 2012. Howson’s local boy credentials, his untiring efforts in midfield and his knack of popping up with a vital goal – notably at Carlisle in a play-off semi-final and at home to Bristol Rovers when his equaliser restarted the promotion express – were warmly appreciated by the Elland Road crowd. Howson was Leeds through and through, and his loss was keenly felt.
Then, in July it got worse still. Robert Snodgrass was no local boy – but he was the latest in a traditional line of Scottish talent to make a name at Elland Road, following in the illustrious footsteps of Bremner, the Grays, Lorimer, Jordan, Strachan and, erm, George McCluskey. Snoddy was a real talent – he even left us with fond memories of a League Cup defeat to Liverpool when his treatment of a hapless Reds defender was so disrespectfully contemptuous that the lad had to be taken off with twisted blood. His goals were regular and spectacular – Snoddy was a 24-carat Leeds hero.
Norwich City fans were catching on by this time to the regular humiliations their club were visiting upon once-mighty Leeds – and they were revelling in it, weren’t they just? Now, any given transfer window brought a barrage of tweets from Canaries fans, with the hashtag LUFC and a mickey-taking 140 characters wondering who the next import from Elland Road would be. They were making hay while the sun shone and loving it. Little Norwich in a position to humble former European giants! It was unprecedented, the stuff of bumpkin wet dreams. Norwich had hit on a rich seam of transfer success as they picked over the twitching corpse of each successive failed Leeds campaign. They had become carrion Canaries, feeders off a bigger but seemingly moribund football club.
By last season, things appeared to have reached the stage where Norwich would take a player from Leeds, not because they needed him, but just because they could. They swooped again in the January window for the disaffected Luciano Becchio, our top scorer, fobbing us off with the ineffectual Steve Morison and an insultingly small cash adjustment. Becchio went on to sink almost without trace at Carrow Road, Morison was a disappointment at Leeds and the whole deal was a failure, of benefit to neither party. But the Norwich fans crowed anew.
Now we have the crazy and repellent situation where, every time a promising lad emerges at Elland Road, the gallows humorists dive out of the woodwork with increasingly weak jokes about him being destined for Norwich City, or more likely Norwich City reserves. These jokes are feeble and unwelcome – but they have the additional barb of that worrying potential to become “bad taste jokes” – by turning out to be true. How Leeds fans have wished for a turning of the tables, to get rid of this monkey on our backs. How we would love, even more, the chance to meet Norwich on equal terms again, our own problems sorted out, and to be able to bring these irritating yokel upstarts to account.
Yesterday, Norwich City – shorn of the injured Snoddy of blessed memory – went to Manchester City, and the Canaries got well and truly stuffed without so much as a tweet of resistance. 7-0 they lost. It was the kind of score the vidi-printer used to choke on and then confirm in capital letters rather than numbers, for fear its accuracy might otherwise be doubted. SEVEN NIL. Some wantonly malicious blogs might even emphasise it in bold. SEVEN NIL. The Norwich defending would have shamed a primary school eleven, they were hopeless in midfield and utterly punchless up front. Could there have been a Leeds fan anywhere who saw that result and didn’t experience a frisson of delighted satisfaction? Not this Leeds fan, that’s for certain. This Leeds fan and this blog were cock a hoop with mean-spirited glee.
The Germans have a word for it – and as usual it’s a long and clunky one. Schadenfreude. It means delighting in the suffering of others and it’s not something, gentle reader, to which I’m usually prone – you’ll be relieved to hear. But football is the modern take on the gladiatorial arena, in which you are able to see those you despise suffer, and can relish the fact of it without losing your essential humanity. Or so I tell myself. The unvarnished truth is that I want to see Norwich City have a shocking season, culminating in relegation. I’d love to see us displace them in the top flight, but at a push, meeting them again in the Championship would do – ideally with Snods and maybe Johnny Howson back in white shirts as is only right and decent. If what goes around really does come around, maybe that might happen. On yesterday’s evidence of their slaughter at the Etihad, it’s not impossible.
How sweet, how very sweet, that would be.